Communication Studies 205-0
Theories of Persuasion
Spring 2016


Professor:       Daniel O’Keefe

                        Office: 1-148 Frances Searle

                        Office hours: 9:00-10:00 MW, 1:00-3:00 M, & by appointment

                        Office phone: 847.491.3581


                        Homepage: or



Assistants:      Sophia Fu       

                        Office: 1-181 Frances Searle 

                        Office hours: by appt.



                        Silvia Lovato  

                        Office: 2-147 Frances Searle 

                        Office hours: by appt.



Course site: or via

Text (supplementary):  D. O’Keefe, Persuasion: Theory and research (3rd ed., paperback, Sage) (ISBN 978-1-4522-7667-0) (one copy available at the Library Reserve Room)

Brief course description and tentative outline:  This course provides a general introduction to the social-scientific study of persuasive communication. The course focuses on competing theoretical accounts of the processes underlying persuasion and on research findings concerning the effects of various factors on persuasive effectiveness.


      I.  Introduction

     II.  Theoretical approaches

          A.  Social judgment theory

          B.  Belief-based models

          C.  Functional approaches

          D.  Reasoned action theory

          E.  Elaboration likelihood model

          F.  Consistency theories

    III.  Factors influencing persuasive effectiveness

          A.  Source factors

          B.  Message factors
          C.  Receiver factors

Graded assignments:

One’s course grade is based on two hourly examinations and a final examination. The examinations cover material presented in lecture and discussion sections. The hourly exams are multiple-choice exams; the first counts for 35% of the course grade, the second for 30%. The final exam is a take-home essay exam; the final exam counts for 35% of the course grade.


It is assumed that examinations will be completed when required. No make-up examinations will be administered, except in cases of documented medical or family emergency. When such problems are encountered, notify Professor O’Keefe at the earliest possible time; appropriate documentation will be needed. Without an acceptable excuse, a missed examination will receive a failing grade (F).



Course grading:

One’s course grade will be determined by the weighted average of the grades on the individual assignments. Each assignment will receive a letter grade, with the usual numerical equivalents (that is, A = 4.0, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, and so forth).


So, for example, a student who received a B on the first exam, an A- on the second exam, and an A on the final exam would have a course average of 3.56.


                        (3.0 x .35)  +  (3.7 x .30)  +  (4.0 x .35)  =  3.56


To convert the course average into a course grade, the following scale will apply:


                                                course average             course grade

                                                 3.850 and up              A

                                                 3.500 and up              A-

                                                 3.150 and up              B+

                                                 2.850 and up              B

                                                 2.500 and up              B-

                                                 2.150 and up              C+

                                                 1.850 and up              C

                                                 1.350 and up              C-

                                                 0.500 and up              D

                                                 below 0.500               F


So a student with a course average of 3.56 would receive a course grade of A-.


However, before course grades are submitted, the raw scores on the hourly exams are reviewed. If the circumstance is such that having answered correctly just one additional question on just one hourly exam would have yielded a higher course grade, then the higher course grade is given.

Research participation requirement:


To receive credit in CS 205, one must complete the Communication Studies research participation requirement. Materials available on the first day of class provide details; that information is also available through the CS 205 course website (look for information about the “research participation requirement”). The research participation homepage is For additional information, make contact with the research coordinator for Communication Studies (



Academic dishonesty:


Don't do it. (If uncertain about what constitutes a violation of Northwestern University's standards of academic integrity, consult the University web site, e.g., p. 22 of:


Bad things will happen if you do. (These can include a failing grade on the assignment—and worse. Again, see the University web site. For details on School of Communication procedures: .)



Accommodations for disabilities:


Any student requesting accommodations related to a disability or other condition is required to register with AccessibleNU (; 847-467-5530) and provide professors with an accommodation notification from AccessibleNU, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential. For details:



Some tentative dates of interest: 

Hourly exam #1:  Wednesday 27 April

Hourly exam #2:  Wednesday 25 May

Take-home final available:  at discussion sections Friday 27 May

Take-home final available online:  not later than 5:00 p.m. Friday 27 May

Take-home final due: not later than noon (12:00 p.m.) Monday 6 June

Tentative schedule:


Week of 28 March

            topic: concept of persuasion, attitude measurement, assessing persuasion

            supplementary reading: pp. 1-18

Week of 4 April

            topic: social judgment theory, belief-based models

            supplementary reading: pp. 19-34 (social judgment); pp. 56-75 (belief-based)

Week of 11 April

            topic: belief-based models (continued), functional approaches

            supplementary reading: pp. 56-75 (belief-based); pp. 35-55 (functional)

Week of 18 April

            topic: reasoned action theory, elaboration likelihood model

            supplementary reading: pp. 98-131 (RAT); pp. 148-175 (ELM)

Week of 25 April

            topic: elaboration likelihood model (continued)

            supplementary reading: pp. 148-175

            Wednesday 27 April: hourly exam #1

            discussion sections do meet as usual Friday 29 April

Week of 2 May

            topic: consistency theories

            supplementary reading: pp. 76-97

Week of 9 May

            topic: source factors

            supplementary reading: pp. 188-213

Week of 16 May

            topic: message factors

            supplementary reading: pp. 214-251

Week of 23 May

            topic: receiver factors

            supplementary reading: pp. 252-267

            Wednesday 25 May: hourly exam #2

            Friday 27 May: final exam available at discussion section

            Friday 27 May: final exam available online by 5:00 p.m.

Week of 30 May

            no class meeting Monday 30 May (Memorial Day)

            Wednesday 1 June: final exam available at lecture

            Friday 3 June: no class meeting


Monday 6 June: final exam due by noon


CommStudies 205 course home page

Daniel J. O’Keefe home page